Factors to Consider When Deciding Where to Apply
Have you researched what classes, clinics and special programs the school offers? Start your research with the American Bar Association or LSAC site. For example, if you are interested in public interest law, search for schools that offer funded summer experiences and post-graduate fellowships and loan forgiveness for public interest work.
Do the faculty members’ research interests align with your own? Look into who will be teaching you at the school and what type of journal articles they publish.
Are your GPA and LSAT scores in the right range for the school? In addition to applying to schools within your range, you should also apply to a couple reach schools. To get an idea of what kind of scores are typical at different law schools and to find the appropriate tiered schools for you, use Boston College’s law school locator.
How competitive are the students? Consider whether you thrive in a highly competitive atmosphere or whether you’d like to live in a more supportive community.
Do you want to be able to live at home while going to school? One way to save on expenses and lighten your debt load is to live with your parents or other family members while attending law school.
Where do you want to live after you graduate? Lower tier schools may be regionally based, meaning that the school is well connected to law firms and employers in the region. It may be much harder to find a job post-degree outside of the school’s region, so consider the location of the school when applying. This will not be an issue with top-tier schools, as there is a demand for their graduates nationally. Still, you are very likely to live wherever you go to law school, so it should be a big factor in deciding where to apply.
What type of city do you want to live in? Were you happy in the small-town rural setting of St. Olaf, or did you long to be closer to the city lights? Did you like the feel of a residential campus, or did you want to have more separation between your school and home life? Think about where the campus is physically located and what kind of atmosphere it has.
One of the reasons that law schools value your GPA and LSAT so highly is that their students’ scores on these tests are used to rate law schools. These ratings, in turn, are used by you to decide where to apply. So YOU are one of the main reasons that the LSAT and undergraduate grades matter so much. It’s a sort of vicious cycle which you can break by doing your own research into law schools and thinking about what you value.
It’s tempting to rely solely on the U.S. News and World Report rankings, but keep in mind that what you value in a law school and what the people at the U.S. News and World Report value may not be exactly the same. U.S. News creates their ratings using information including number of books in the library, percentage of people accepted (remember the incentive for schools to recruit applications from people who don’t stand a chance), percentage of graduates who found employment (consider the fact that this statistic doesn’t distinguish between those who work as waiters and those who clerk for the Supreme Court), and of course, median GPA and LSAT. Just as most of you don’t want law schools to rely on your LSAT and GPA alone, law schools don’t want you to rely on their U.S. News ranking alone. In fact, according to the Society of American Law Teachers, “Admissions officers from around the country consistently report that the rankings constrain their ability to accept deserving and otherwise qualified students with relatively low LSAT scores.” However, rankings can still be helpful in comparing schools and getting a sense for the tier of a school, so don’t discount them completely.
You may find it useful to examine other ratings in addition to U.S. News. For example, Leiter Ratings compiles ratings for successful placement in Supreme Court clerkships and top law teaching jobs, among many, many other ratings. Brian Leiter is clear and transparent about his methodology, and he allows you to compare schools using only the measures you actually care about. Another source is the Princeton Review’s Best 170 Law Schools, available in the Piper Center. This book contains 11 ranking lists, including ranking based on competitiveness of students, conservativeness, and quality of life. Use Equal Justice Works’ guide to law schools to evaluate various schools’ focus on social justice law.
Other Factors to Consider:
- Post-graduation Employment Prospects
- Attitude towards Women/Minorities/GLBT